How long does it really take to earn a part-time MBA?

BY Meghan MalasDecember 06, 2021, 2:28 PM
Students on campus at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., September 2021.
Stefani Reynolds—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to part-time MBA programs. In many of these, students can choose how many courses they take per semester, finishing quickly in one year or taking as long as five years or more to complete the degree. One of the best parts of this flexibility is that it allows professionals to work while taking MBA courses, ensuring they can apply what they learn in real time. 

But every business school’s program is different, and there is variation in when and where students take classes, how programs are paced, and opportunities for extracurriculars and networking. All of these differences can factor into how long students take to finish their programs. 

The average part-time MBA student can expect to finish in about two and a half to three years at top-ranked part-time programs such as Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, and New York University’s Stern School of Business

Accelerated part-time MBA options

Many business schools offer accelerated programs to students who are looking for an intensive version of an MBA program that will wrap up in less than two years. To qualify for an expedited track, a student often needs to have completed some sort of business education at the undergraduate or graduate level. Northwestern University’s Kellogg Evening & Weekend MBA program offers an accelerated option that allows students to graduate in as little as one year. Doing so also reduces a student’s tuition by up to 25% and enables them to dive into advanced electives sooner. 

The expedited option was a key factor for Alex Rogalski in his decision to pursue his MBA part-time, notes the 2021 graduate of Kellogg’s accelerated MBA program and a senior associate at Owner Resource Group. The accelerated evening and weekend program allowed him to skip the more basic business courses because of the prerequisites he had completed in his finance and economics undergraduate programs, which gave him more time to focus on the networking, culture, and collaborative aspects of his experience, he adds. 

“Going in, you have to prioritize what you want to get out of the MBA experience—I think that is very critical,” Rogalski says, adding that he chose Kellogg’s venture capital and private equity pathway to advance his career in the field and build a network with other professionals in the industry. 

Self-paced programs offer a longer timeline

Most schools allow up to five or six years to complete a part-time MBA program, which enables students to take just one or two courses if work or life proves particularly demanding. Business schools may allow students to take a term off in the middle of a program, which would extend the total enrollment duration—but makes the entire MBA experience more manageable for those students who need extra time off. 

Sometimes, even longer leaves of absence are accommodated. For example, most students in the self-paced online MBA program at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business will finish the degree in about three to four years, but they are allowed up to 10 years to finish the program.

These types of self-paced, part-time MBA programs are becoming more popular—and applications grew 53% in 2020 from 2019, the Graduate Management Admission Council reported in its application trends study.

Some schools offer several options

Even within the same school, part-time students may be on very different timelines in completing an MBA program. At New York University’s Stern School of Business, part-time MBA students can choose from one of three tracks: the two-year accelerated program, a weeknight option, or a Saturday schedule. Depending on their needs, students can ramp up or slow down and choose to complete the program in as few as two years or up to six. 

The ability to adjust mid-program was a key attraction for Alexa Keegan, a 2021 Stern part-time MBA graduate and senior brand marketing manager for Marc Jacobs Fragrances. Keegan took three years to graduate from the program, which is the norm for part-time MBA students at Stern. 

“From the beginning, my objective was to get everything I could out of the program in my three years there,” Keegan says, adding that because she knew that her program was finite, she felt inclined to get involved in student government, networking events, and other extracurriculars. For Keegan, three years was enough time to explore the opportunities the program had to offer and build valuable connections with other students, but it also was a short enough period that she felt she could balance work and school for that long. 

“I think flexibility has definitely been a hallmark of the part-time MBA at Stern,” Jessica Neville, the school’s senior executive director of communications, adds. “The fact that you can dial up or dial back or get as involved as you’d like outside of class is a really powerful component.” 

See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best part-timeexecutive, full-time, and online MBA programs.